Revisiting Lessons on Voter Suppression

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Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D
Northern Kentucky University

Election season is upon us and true to form, there is widespread talk of voter suppression. A recent debate is over the United Postal service and the role it will play in allowing people to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. As more and more restrictions are placed on the US Postal Service people are starting to argue that it looks like voter suppression. A New York Times article entitled Trump Is Pushing a False Argument on Vote-by-Mail Fraud. Here Are the Facts makes this case. An article in the Texas Tribune entitled Democrats, Local Election Leaders Fear Donald Trump’s Attacks On Mail-in Voting Foreshadow Voter Suppression also makes the same argument. But of course, voter suppression is nothing new. The Voting Rights Alliance lists 61 forms of voter suppression here. In light of the upcoming general election we have decided to re-post a previous article and resources on voter suppression below.

Originally Published September 9, 2019

Voting in a Democracy- Lessons on Voter Suppression

15th Amendment
Section 1- The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

24th Amendment
Section 1- The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

The above amendments ostensibly guaranteed the right of Americans to vote regardless of their race or class. These amendments were passed in an effort to stop the disenfranchisement of African Americans, especially in the south. The 15th amendment guaranteed black men the right to vote and the 24th amendment made the poll tax illegal.  The amendments were written to stop voter suppression.

Voter suppression is a variety of methods used to change election results by stopping and disrupting the voting of specific groups of people. Voter suppression is different from political campaigning. With political campaigning candidates attempt to change the opinions and practices of their voting of through persuasion and organization. However, the goal of voter suppression is to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a candidate or proposition.

“The tactics of voter suppression range from minor changes to make voting less convenient, to physically intimidating and even physically attacking prospective voters, which is illegal. Voter suppression can be effective if a significant number of voters are intimidated or disenfranchised.”

Lesson Plans and Resources on Voter Suppression
Teaching the Truth About Voter Suppression
The Voting Rights Act, 1965 and beyond
Voter Suppression Lesson Plan
Barriers to Voting
Lesson Plan: To Vote or Not to Vote
Lesson Activity- Who gets to Vote?
Voter Fraud? Or Voter Suppression?
Election Resources

References
Fighting Voter Suppression
Voter-Suppression Tactics in the Age of Trump
Voter Suppression
Voter Oppression in the United States


11 Comments

  1. In Professor David Childs’ article on voting suppression, we are taking a semi-microscopic look upon the U.S. constitution and its amendments that protect the rights of its U.S. citizens’ ability to vote and lack thereof with no denied voting with this said constitutional Right. Like Professor Childs, I, myself am very passionate in U.S. history (preferring the Reconstruction Era to early-2000s.) and see only negative side-effects with voter suppression.

    To many historians, many scholars, and politicians; voter suppressions aims at not only the citizens’ 14th and 15th Amendments, accordingly, but it can have a negative effect in the U.S. election results. Voter suppression is not a new idea, but it has been a heated debate; especially with current talks on some states encouraging mail-in voting, while other states are not encouraging both in-person and mail-in voting. This could be deemed as an attack on our [U.S] Constitutional Rights, alongside with changing election results based on limited voting in certain states.

    In campaigning we have often seen politicians try to persuade voters in different states to receive those individuals’ votes based on morals, based on confidence and knowledge, based on professionalism; and these are only a few ideas that voters rely upon. Voter suppression is not campaigning; again, campaigning is a “political device.” Think of these “devices” as a set of tools in a politician’s toolbox to winning an election. Sometimes, however a politician may get a little carried away and use the wrong tools in their said toolbox to help them win an election. It should be said, though, that encouraging mail-in voting could also suppress the need of individuals that vote in person. This could cause a lack of willingness for the individuals that vote in-person to go out and vote. This could cause an influx of voting in future elections; however, this upcoming November 3rd election could paint a picture as to what mail-in voting could mean in America.

    I will preface, again, our U.S. Constitutional Rights should not be infringed or abridged for political gain; nor should our Rights be infringed upon in a general sense of the term. I would argue, though, that ID Laws could be sufficient and would not infringe upon our rights to vote. If this was the case, our voting age should also be lowered if ID laws were not enforced for voting in the United States, because why should we use our IDs at the voting booths if some states are more accepting of the lack thereof with IDs and licenses at the individuals’ designated voting place.

    -Daniel P.

  2. This article is so relevant to today’s circumstances given it was written about a year ago. I am flabbergasted at the fact that more people are not discussing this as voter suppression. Based on the definition of voter suppression I do not see how a person could not label the infringements as such.

  3. Voter suppression is a huge topic right now. With the postal service making cuts and relocating sorting machines so many things look shady on all ends. I can clearly see how people would jump to conclusions. Not to mention the post master general has money tied up with direct USPS competitors.

  4. In his article about voter suppression, Dr. Childs clearly defines what it is and what it is not. Voter suppression has been in the news a lot lately, mostly due to President Trump’s insistence that mail-in voting will lead to widespread voter fraud, and essentially calling into question the validity of the election before the first ballots are even cast. President Trump and his allies have even gone so far as to try to handicap the United States Postal Service in an effort to make voting by mail more difficult or less desirable.
    As Dr. Childs states, a mild form of voter suppression is making minor changes to voting so that it’s less accessible. This happened during the primary in Wisconsin, where a majority conservative state Supreme Court shot down any efforts to make voting easier during a time of great panic caused by the pandemic. President Trump himself has even suggested that he would like to see less people vote because the fewer the voters, the more likely Republicans are to be victorious. Voting is one of our most precious freedoms, and it is up to all of us on both sides of the aisle to make sure that voter suppression is called out for what it is and stopped.

  5. This article was very insightful for anyone trying to understand the current political climate of America. The government attempting to suppress voting is highly illegal and the fact that it is happening again is honestly just disgraceful. We are supposed to be the poster child for democracy and yet here we are getting our votes getting taken away. It really shows how easily history can repeat itself when people refuse to learn from their mistakes.

  6. Voter suppression is a major topic in our country today as we are nearing a presidential election. As the article stated where there are many restrictions being put on the postal service it is starting to make it seem more like voter suppression as it will alienate a majority of the population who can not get out to the polling places for health reasons because of the global pandemic going on. We must be cautious going forward to make sure we keep our rights.

  7. Voter suppression is often viewed on its face and not in the many ways it can be down. As demonstrated in the past during the era of ‘Jim Crow’ laws in the South, there are multiple ways through which polling services can be denied to voters. Although certain rights are guaranteed in the Constitution, voter suppression can occur due to a manipulation of the rules or abusing loopholes that are discovered. Complicating the act of voting can manifest in a variety of ways. As such, I think this article is an important reminder that obstacles can be very prevalent today as they were then.

  8. Voter suppression is a very real and pressing topic in our current society. Many voters are worried about the validity of vote counts if they are sent in though by mail. When this topic started to be relevant in current society amidst of the impending election, I did not even consider mail budget cuts and the implications this would further make on the matters.

  9. I recently watched the Postmaster General testify in front of the House Oversight Committee about the recent problems with mail in voting, among other things. The aspect I find the most shocking about voting rights is that it is rarely talked about. I think the in order to stop voter suppression we need to open up discussion on how we can stop it, while protecting one of our most basic freedoms.

  10. I think this article is a great opportunity for debate in the classroom. However, I think it is just as important to get students to think about how laws and Constitutional amendments are made, negotiated, and worded. Clearly these two amendments have a flaw, they have no requirement of accessibility for polling stations and registrations. Some have argued that voter id laws requiring a state ID are effectively a poll tax, and that some government offices in the south are inaccessible to historically black communities who lack transportation due to poverty. It presents an opportunity for students to think from the perspective of protecting the rights of others and how their own rights might be challenged by poorly written laws. I would likely modify the lesson plan regarding “Barriers to voting” to have students design their own alternative law to protect voting rights, then compare their law with modern voter rights laws. It took 100 years just to get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to plug some of these holes.

  11. I think this is a topic that we should cover in our classrooms. We can use this as a tool to talk about the constitution and its amendments as it pertains to voting. We can have a discussion on what those amendments actually say and wither or not rights are being violated based on those amendments.

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